I’ll admit it; I’ve been searching for answers. Answers to questions like these: How long will I feel like this? What can I do to feel better? How do I go on without him? Is it normal to feel weepy at the slightest provocation? Talk about him all the time? Leave the kitchen light on every night?
And for the most part, I am finding my answers in the books I’ve picked up, and from those who have gone down this path before me. I have filled pages of journals with heartfelt sentiments, jotted down notes and quotes. I have made a list of my regrets, and transcribed some of the last conversations David and I shared. I’m writing essays and filling my calendar with future speaking engagements and workshops that I am looking forward to. Moving one foot ahead of the other. Functioning.
I thought I was doing so well.
And then, this morning, I get a phone call. When our friend Bob died, his sister had promised all his books, the books I had located and bought for him over a period of ten years, would come back to me. Even at the wake, his own sons expressed their appreciation for helping feed their father’s book lust, and they stood in front of me and shook mine and David’s hands and insisted they would get those books to me, despite my protestations that they were given to their father as a gift. Bob’s sister called to inform me that all the books had been carted off to the local library over the weekend. It was evident that she was horrified by the lack of consideration to me, and yet I reassured her they were just books, and I could attend the next library book sale and buy any of them I wanted. She has had more than her share of pain in her life, and I hated to hear the worry and concern in her voice. “Don’t worry about it,” I assured her.
Then I got off the phone, and burst into tears.
This is how it works, this thing called grief. It hits us when we least expect it, and in ways we could not imagine. When I found a half-empty bottle of men’s cologne in the downstairs bathroom medicine cabinet last week, I was thrilled. None of David’s shirts have retained his smell, but now I could sprinkle them with my favorite of his scents. When I hunted for a box of tea bags in my cupboard a few days later and found a stash of David’s gum, I cried. Why the gum and not the cologne? Why could I easily rid the closet and drawers of David’s pants and shoes and yet I cannot bear to part with any of his shirts? It made perfect sense to one of my sisters who remarked that it was the shirts I touched as I hugged him.
I am learning that grief doesn’t always make sense. I was not crying about the hundreds of books I’d bought Bob. I was crying about the few personal books of David’s that he had loaned to Bob; books I’ve already replaced in my library, most notably Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven and Todd Burpo’s Heaven is for Real. Simple paperback copies of these two books that David had loved, and then loaned to his friend to enjoy. Then there were the two Chicken Soup books David had me inscribe to Bob because my stories were featured in them.
I was crying about the few books that David had loved, touched, and personally cared about. And yet, without any sense of loss at all, I had packaged up and sent David’s brother the last few books he’d been reading at the table. When one of my daughters expressed the desire to read her Dad’s 90 Minutes in Heaven (since he’d mentioned it so often), I’d commented that it would be returned to me when Bob’s books were, and then I purchased a replacement copy for her to read. I decided I would pass that replacement copy off to someone else when David’s came back to me. I assumed all along that I would be getting David’s personal books back at some time, and maybe even with one of the little pieces of paper he so often used as a bookmark inside of it. Paper with his handwriting on, if I was really lucky. Suddenly, that tiny, tenuous thread of a future connection to David was broken. Even if I attended that book sale, would I be able to find David’s books among those for sale? What if someone bought them before I got there?
Of course I called the library, and began explaining what had happened. I was horrified when I started sobbing on the phone. Whoever it was who had answered must have been just as horrified; I was suddenly talking to a dial tone. A few deep breaths later, I called again, and was transferred to a woman I know. Dianna seemed to understand my dilemma perfectly. She told me someone had donated about 30 boxes that hadn’t been gone through yet, and I was welcome to go through them. Nearly ten years of collecting books for Bob, at an average of 10 books a month in the winter and fewer in the summer; yes, 30 boxes sounded about right.
All the reading and the talking over grief I have done since David’s death couldn’t have prepared me for the onslaught of emotion I felt over the loss of a few paperback books. Of course, I have now filed away this experience in the notes I have been accumulating for my own “someday” book on grief.
It really wasn’t about the books. When I go to the library to look through the boxes, I just might find what it is I am looking for;
Another small connection to the man I loved, and miss so much.